Managing political risk: How to influence legislation and policy
21st February 2023
In volatile political times the likelihood of new rules and regulations that directly impacts organisations increases. Ministers grapple with the need to balance the books or address societal issues, and tax rises are a frequent tool of choice – with business often seen as an easy target. All the while new regulatory interventions are a constant risk under governments of any political persuasion.
In a recent example, a business in a regulated sector was concerned about a policy announced in a Budget which would limit the fees their sector could charge consumers. They wanted to write angry letters to senior politicians, assuming that once these arrived in the ministerial inbox the government would see the error of its ways and change course. Unsurprisingly, this approach did not have the desired effect.
So how can organisations influence policy outcomes? Here are three considerations to keep in mind when seeking to contribute to the political decision-making process.
Build relationships early
Investing time and resources early on to build working relationships with politicians, advisers, civil servants, think tanks, regulators, and industry lobbying groups can really pay dividends. A political outreach programme in Westminster and Whitehall helps you to build cross-party networks that will prove invaluable when you need advocates in the future. It ensures you are known in policymaking circles as an organisation that contributes its expertise to policy debates. Then when the time comes you have a better chance of being heard amongst the inevitable noise.
It is important for organisations to have ‘offers’ to politicians and governments as well as ‘asks.’ You are more likely to get a hearing if you show that you understand what the government is trying to do – for example on economic growth, the skills agenda, or regional development – and how your organisation contributes to that.
Develop an effective influencing strategy
The political system can appear difficult to navigate. Policy is not developed by one person and ministerial decisions are influenced by a wide range of individuals in government, Parliament and outside of Westminster – including commentators in the media.
To develop an effective influencing strategy, you need to analyse where power and influence lie so that you know who to talk to, when and how. Ensuring consistency of your core messages across all audiences and channels is vital, and briefings should be clear, accurate and short. At the same time your engagement programme needs to be agile in response to changing political circumstances.
Deliver a compelling case for why politicians should listen
The obvious challenge to your position will be that you only have your organisation’s commercial interests at heart. To combat this, you’ll need to have a realistic ask and be able to provide evidence to prove your case. Again, it is helpful to consider whether your ask can be framed in such a way that it fits with, or advances, the government’s overall policy agenda.
It is also helpful to be able to show that you are not the only ones taking this position, or that any unintended consequences would have a wide impact. This requires recruiting allies of a similar mind who may offer support to your cause – whether they be competitors, or third-party advocates in think tanks and the media. Once armed with compelling evidence and supportive allies you can identify opportunities to lobby. Parliamentary advocates are essential in calling the Government to account, asking parliamentary questions, and having a back channel to ministers and advisers.
Political decisions are influenced by a wide range of factors and so affecting the change you seek is never a given. If the company in our earlier example had put in place the right preparation, strategy, and delivery it would have increased its chances of seeing a favourable outcome.